When I was still in active addiction there was very little that could make me happy. Although there were three things that could still almost ignite the slowly fading flicker of joy that was left smoldering within me: booze, yoga and flowers. I would imagine my future while lying hungover and exhausted on my yoga mat after a 90 minute ashtanga session. A session that I would go to as my daily "penance" for the previous day's drunkenness. “What can I do with my life in the future” I would muse... and then it came to me. What are the three things that everyone needs in life... whether they know it or not? Booze, yoga and flowers. So I would open a little shop. "Blenderhead's Bend, Booze and Blossom Boutique" or something equally ridiculous. Clients would enter in the front which would lead straight into check-in for our incredibly strenuous classes. After class they would exit exhausted and repentant through a different door where they could pay for the class and also go shopping for their daily flowers and booze quota. Nothing seemed like a better idea at the time. It still does to tell you the truth. Sure, I'm sober, but everyone else in the world still needs booze, yoga and flowers...don't they? In recovery, drugs and alcohol have gone by the wayside but I'm happy to report that I still love yoga and flowers. In fact I love most plants, flowering or otherwise, and in my house I have one plant that means more to me than all the rest of them. This plant is called Swedish ivy in the world of normies but in A.A. circles it’s known as Bill's Creeping Charlie. This plant is a cutting that was given to me by my friend Arlene M. who got it from our mutual friend Jack D. who in turn got it from a woman who had known Bill W. "back in the day" and had received one of the clippings after Bill's death. So what’s the story behind this miraculous plant?
Rumor has it that Ebby Thatcher, Bill's dear friend, brought Bill the original Creeping Ivy plant while Bill was drying out for the last time at Towns hospital in New York City. Bill, noticing the way the plants tendrils were forever growing and creeping towards the light named the plant “Creeping Charlie” after a friend of his. Apparently Charlie used to creep up on Bill's back porch to sleep it off after he had tied one on and was not welcome back in his own home.
Lincoln Norton, who was a young 24-year old man when he taught a not-so-young 74-year old Bill Wilson transcendental meditation in 1969, had this to say about the plant:
"Among other personal items Lois brought back from Bill's hospital room after his death was a very healthy Swedish ivy plant that had been in his room. “Here” she said to me,“why don't you take care of Bill's plant? I'm sure he'd want you to have it". I'd always liked houseplants but this one was special. For one thing it grew and grew and grew so that I had to trim it quite a lot. At first I threw away the clippings, until I realized that new plants could be developed from these cuttings. I found that they could develop new roots, even without the benefit of soil or rooting compound. Soon I had a bunch of Swedish ivy plants in small pots and the mother plant kept growing and growing, none the worse for all those cuttings. I came to think of the mother plant as "Bill's plant" and the cuttings as the offspring. I can't remember now to whom I gave the first "offspring" but it was someone in A.A. I made sure that the metaphor was clear: "This plant represents the spirit of Bill W. Pass it on!"
Months before Bill Wilson's final drying-out stint at Towns Hospital Ebby had visited Bill at his home in Brooklyn. Ebby had visited Bill to tell him about his experiences with the Oxford group.* Experiences that had helped Ebby to achieve sobriety for the first time since he had started drinking alcoholically as a young man. Here is what Bill wrote about that first visit from a newly sober Ebby:
My friend sat before me, and he made the point-blank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for himself. His human will had failed. Doctors had pronounced him incurable. Society was about to lock him up. Like myself, he had admitted complete defeat. Then he had, in effect, been raised from the dead, suddenly taken from the scrap heap to a level of life better than the best he had ever known!
Had this power originated in him? Obviously it had not. There had been no more power in him than there was in me at the minute; and this was none at all.
That floored me. Here was something at work in a human heart which had done the impossible. My ideas about miracles were drastically revised right then. Never mind the musty past; here sat a miracle directly across the kitchen table. He shouted great tidings.
I saw that my friend was much more than inwardly reorganized. He was on a different footing. His roots grasped a new soil.
And that is what has happened to me. Slow as cold molasses mind you, but it is happening. I am on a different footing. My roots are grasping new soil. In the beginning of my sober journey I was terrified. I felt untethered, rootless, as if I was floating in a chilled jittery nothingness. I lived in what felt like a 24/7 panic attack. But sitting in meetings in those early days of recovery something inside of me began to take root. A seed of hope. A desire to live. I saw, for the first time, a way out of my abject misery and vision of future insanity. And just like the delicate, so-fragile-you-think-they-won't-make-it Creeping Charlie clippings that sprout their new roots and cling to life, we do the same in recovery.
Because I propagate my clippings in water I can watch the almost invisible roots start to sprout. The roots are so tiny, smaller than a human hair and absolutely transparent. At first you cannot see them without a magnifying glass. One day they are barely visible to the naked eye and then miraculously without any care at all, they are thriving. The tiny threadlike roots of the clippings begin to thicken and reach out farther each day, the roots pressing up against the glass, desperate to take root, to live and thrive and be planted in new soil.
Now I have clippings all over. I have one on my desk right now as I type this. Who will I give this plant to? And who will they give it to? And how long will this magical tradition of passing it on last? I am thrilled to have this plant in my house. This piece of A.A. history. A piece of Bill Wilson's legacy. I have cared less for this plant than any other plant I have ever owned. I forget to water it, I leave it in the harsh sun or forget about it in some gloomy corner and yet it thrives. It always thrives. My dog knocks it off its pedestal, my cats chew on it, breaking off limbs and creating general mayhem as cats are wont to do. And yet this plant thrives. Every time one of the animals or my scissors snaps off a tendril, the broken piece (still connected to the mother plant) does not wither and die as I thought it would. Instead, where the broken bit was, 2 or sometimes more new strong tendrils sprout out of that broken stem. This plant continuously gets stronger through its brokeness, just like addicts in recovery.
I see the magic and resilience of A.A. in this magical Creeping Charlie plant. Both are resilient and mysterious and seemingly indestructible. And both will keep on reaching out toward the light, growing stronger and bringing joy to recovering addicts everywhere. Hopefully forever.
*The Oxford Group - The Oxford Group was a Christian organization found by American Lutheran priest Frank Buchman in 1921. Buchman believed that the root of all problems were the personal problems of fear and selfishness. Further, Buchman believed that the solution to living with fear and selfishness was to "surrender one's life over to God's plan".